Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

92nd Liège-Bastogne-Liège - PT

Belgium, April 23, 2006

Main page     Map    Start List    2005 results    Latest live report    Complete live report     LBL live photos    Results

Live Commentary by Jeff Jones with additional reporting from Anthony Tan and Brecht Decaluwé

Live report

Live coverage starts: 10:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 16:48 CEST

Riders gather at the line
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

Welcome to sunny Liège, for our hot-air powered coverage of the 92nd edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest classic. After repairing a small rent in the side of our blimp after Wednesday, we're airborne again and hovering above Liège's Place Saint-Lambert, where the riders are just rolling out for 262 km of tough climbing in the Ardennes.

10:15 CEST   
It's a beautiful day for riding too: the temperatures are around the 10 degree mark at the start, with a maximum of 14 predicted for today. But it's sunny, so that makes a big difference, and there's only a light wind blowing from the north east, which will be against the riders on the return leg from Bastogne.

The outward leg is slightly easier than the return, but not by much. The first of 12 recognised climbs is the Cote de Ny after 57 km, but the real climbing action starts on the way back with the Cote de Wanne after 173 km. Key climbs include the Cote de Stockeu (1.1 km at 10.5%, km 179.5), Cote de la Haute-Levee (km 185, 3.4 km at 6%), Cote de la Redoute (km 227.5, 2.1 km at 8.4%) and the Cote de St Nicolas (km 256, 1 km at 11.1%). The finish to Ans is also uphill for the last 2 km or so.

Can Vinokourov repeat has victory of last year, or will Valverde surprise everyone as he did on Wednesday in Fleche Wallonne? Can Boogerd convert one of his podium places into a win, and will CSC continue to stay on top with riders like Frank Schleck, Karsten Kroon and Ivan Basso? Danilo di Luca, Damiano Cunego, Paolo Bettini, David Etxebarria...the list of favourites is long today.

10:20 CEST   
After a short neutral section out of Liège, the race proper has started. With the fantastic weather, plenty of people were out to cheer off the riders for the last classic of spring.

This morning before the start, the UCI blood tested 32 riders from Milram, Bouygues Telecom, Agritubel and Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears. All riders were declared fit to start.

10:25 CEST   
There was only one non-starter this morning: Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner). 195 riders are in the race.

10:34 CEST   
Cofidis Team leader Rik Verbrugghe is starting with modest ambitions today. "I got sick just before Amstel and that's something you can't control," he was quoted in HNB. "After Amstel I was on antibiotics for three days and it was still hanging in my system for the Flèche Wallonne. Am I still lacking form to go with the best? I hope to get better, but don't make any dreams for myself, winning in Liege is not possible. Seriously reduced ambitions, although I hope the race conditions will be favourable. And maybe, it might come out OK."

10:42 CEST    16km/246km to go
The attacking has started, and a group of 13 riders has just tried to get clear, but the peloton pulled them back. The group contained Contador (Liberty), Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), Schwab (Quick.Step), Dockx (Davitamon), Reynes (Caisse d'Epargne), Clement and Sprick (Bouygues), Carlström (Liquigas), Benitez (Saunier), Van de Wouwer (Unibet), Veuchelen (Jacques), Kleynen (Landbouwkrediet), and Calvente (AG2R).

10:47 CEST    21km/241km to go
Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) has decided, in agreement with team director Dirk Demol, to end his spring campaign prematurely after being too sick to train last Thursday and Friday. He had 39°C fever and it was not possible for him to start today. Devolder will return to competition in the Dauphiné Libéré. Discovery is thus starting with only six riders.

10:53 CEST    25km/237km to go
The peloton is clinging together now, but the attacks are continuing. A lot of riders want to make that important early breakaway.

11:01 CEST    28km/234km to go
The next attack comes from David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval), Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R) and Laurens Ten Dam (Unibet) after 27 km. The three have a small gap.

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) is hoping for a battle of the titans today. His third placing in Amstel Gold is giving him confidence, and he starts with the ambition of winning L-B-L. "I hope that the team is capable enough to do the work to guide me into the finale in an ideal position," he is quoted in HLN as saying. "The perfect scenario would be that the race isn't ridden too tactically. That the strongest riders may cross the La Redoute climb and that the very best riders will still be together at the foot of the Côte Saint-Nicolas. Then the race will have to really start. I hope that it will end up in a battle of the giants, like we saw Wednesday on the Mur de Huy."

11:09 CEST    34km/228km to go
The three do not get very far, and are hauled back after 29 km. Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues) and Serge Pauwels (Jacques) counter attack, gaining a small advantage over a group of 20 chasers, with the peloton another 15 seconds back. It's been a pretty aggressive start, with plenty of splits happening. This will take its toll later on.

11:12 CEST   
The reason for Markus Fothen's DNS in Liege this morning is now apparent. His girlfriend gave birth to a baby girl Maxine this morning at 7:30am. The baby weighs 4.15 kg and measures 55cm. "Mother and child are well, and we are very happy," said Fothen.

11:14 CEST    36km/226km to go
Fedrigo and Pauwels still have 12 seconds on a group of 24 chasers, with the peloton at 35 seconds. This could be the start of the break, but we'll see.

11:21 CEST    43km/219km to go
The peloton has decided to let 26 riders go, it looks like. Fedrigo and Pauwels are still up front, but will surely be caught by the chase group, which contains: Marcos Serrano (Liberty), Jens Voigt (CSC), Michael Rogers, Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile), Juan Antonio Flecha, Alexandre Kolobnev (Rabobank), Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), Addy Engels (Quick.Step), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Discovery), Christophe Brandt (Davitamon), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta, Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), Luis Perez Rodriguez (Cofidis), Remi Pauriol (Credit Agricole), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Arkaitz Duran Arroca (Saunier Duval), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Stephane Goubert (AG2R), Martin Wynants (Jacques), Bert De Waele, Steven Kleynen, Jean-Paul Simon (Landbouwkrediet) and Ryan Cox (Barloworld).

The main bunch is at 4'00, so obviously there was a halt called...

11:27 CEST   
Paolo Bettini was not impressed with what happened at La Flèche Wallonne this week. The Tuscan QuickStep rider is not making a big deal about it, but admits that he was without support on the finale of Amstel Gold and the Flèche Wallonne. "You have seen what happened, haven't you?" Bettini is quoted saying in HNB. "It's easy to say that I wasn't riding well and wasted my energy. But I had to battle against the solid blocks of T-Mobile and CSC. I hope that L-B-L will go better. It's another race. Longer, harder. We will have to do with the team we have though.

"Serge Baguet is the most consistent rider. I am counting on him this Sunday and also on Garate to stay with me as long as possible. Without throwing mud at the other guys of course. This is not unexpected. We have talked about it in the team. With men like Pozzato and especially Boonen, the focus was mostly on RVV. That is asking its toll. The team has lost a bit of fire; it's weaker compared to a few weeks ago."

11:33 CEST    50km/212km to go
The two leaders are actually gaining more ground - 50 seconds - on the 24 chasers, who mustn't be going flat stick. But neither is the peloton, which is cruising along at 6'50.

11:41 CEST   
Karsten Kroon is regretting that the first part of the season is coming to an end after today's L-B-L. It looks like the CSC rider can't get enough of the spring races. "I'm not at all tired of racing as yet, and I don't feel tired," he told Sportwereld.

The day after Paris-Roubaix, he rode the full parcours of L-B-L behind the motorbike. "We had to fuel up four times. I'm certain that I can be one of the riders who colour the finale in L-B-L, but win it? I'll be sitting close to Boogerd, a very strong Sanchez, Bettini and Valverde." After today's race, Kroon gets to take a breather and he will start racing again in the Tour of Luxembourg, in preparation for the Tour de France.

Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

11:49 CEST    60km/202km to go
The leaders have passed the côte de Ny with Fedrigo and Pauwels losing some of their advantage to the nearest chasers. They are caught over the top, and we now have a group of 26 riders in front:

Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues), Marcos Serrano (Liberty), Jens Voigt (CSC), Michael Rogers, Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile), Juan Antonio Flecha, Alexandre Kolobnev (Rabobank), Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), Addy Engels (Quick.Step), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Discovery), Christophe Brandt (Davitamon), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta, Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), Luis Perez Rodriguez (Cofidis), Remi Pauriol (Credit Agricole), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Arkaitz Duran Arroca (Saunier Duval), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Stephane Goubert (AG2R), Serge Pauwels, Martin Wynants (Jacques), Bert De Waele, Steven Kleynen, Jean-Paul Simon (Landbouwkrediet) and Ryan Cox (Barloworld).

Some interesting names up here, like Voigt, Rogers, Wesemann, Flecha... We'll see how much time they are given, but it will require a solid chase to bring them back.

12:01 CEST    69km/193km to go
The group stretches its lead to 7'10, so obviously the peloton has picked it up a bit. There are 20 teams represented in front, so there is not really much incentive to chase. There are only 25 teams in the whole race...

But we'll probably see some of the bigger teams chase later on, as they do want to set up their team leaders.

12:04 CEST    73km/189km to go
Indeed, the peloton has started to pick it up, pegging the leaders back to a more manageable 5'50.

12:13 CEST    82km/180km to go
It's stabilised now to around the 6 minute mark, with the first two hours nearly over. Milram and Phonak have been chasing - neither team has a rider up front. The average speed has been up around the 41-42 km/h mark.

12:20 CEST    85km/177km to go
2004 winner Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), who had to quit the Flèche Wallonne last Wednesday with stomach problems is a starter today. His painful rib is still giving him strife though.

12:22 CEST   
The leaders are now passed the second climb of the day, the côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne. Pauwels, Wynants and Simon lead over the top, flying the flag for the smaller teams today.

12:36 CEST    95km/167km to go
The peloton crosses the summit of the côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne at 6'50 behind the 26 leaders, most of whom will be doing their best to stay away for as long as possible. But once they get to Bastogne and head for home, the group will start to cut down in size.

12:45 CEST    100km/162km to go
Phonak and Milram are driving the peloton along at a good tempo, 5'55 behind the break. They may not have the firepower to bring the leaders back, but we will see. It will then be up to the other teams to decide on their tactics. Certainly CSC, T-Mobile and Rabobank don't have a good reason to chase, as they have good riders in front. But maybe Quick.Step, Caisse d'Epargne and Liquigas will put their shoulders to the wheel.

Michele Bartoli
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

12:57 CEST    109km/153km to go
The riders are now at the turnaround point in Bastogne, but they face another 151 km of hard racing to come. The gap is shrinking, slightly, and is now 5'45.

We spoke to Michele Bartoli, a former winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, at the start this morning. "Of course, my memories of Liège-Bastogne-Liège are good. And today, I believe another Italian can also win - Bettini, Basso, Di Luca, Rebellin all have a chance. It's a classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège course, and by classic, I also mean difficult. Valverde can also win; for me, his win last Wednesday [in Flèche Wallonne] wasn't a surprise. Last year, he showed his strength at the Tour de France, and he could do it again in July if everything is good for him. For the Giro, Basso is the big favourite, the biggest - numero uno."

13:07 CEST    117km/145km to go
The peloton passes through the feed zone in Luzery, some five and a half minutes behind the big break of 26 in front. The third climb of the day is approaching, the Côte de Saint Roch (km 129).

You can also follow our live coverage via your mobile phone's WAP service, if you have one. Just go to http://live.cyclingnews.com/wap/ and it's all there! Similarly, for the Tour de Georgia coming up, you can use http://live9.cyclingnews.com/wap/

Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

13:11 CEST   
Chris Horner had another chat to us this morning in Place St-Lambert. The American will have a free role today.

CN: You told one of our correspondents a few days ago you've been feeling good the last few weeks, so how are you feeling right now?

CH: Yeah, good at the moment... I've got freedom to do what I need to do in the race if I've got the legs. Cadel and Leukemans are going good too and so is the rest of the team; we just don't have that rider has the 'favourite' form just yet.

CN: Is it less pressure not having an outright favourite, though?

CH: Well, it's better to have an outright leader and the team walks away with the win. But the form's been good for me all week so far although outside of the bubble of the top ten guys, and unfortunately it's the win you're trying to get, or at least the top ten. So, hopefully, the legs are better than they have been the last two races; I'm not complaining, the form's good, but it needs to be that 1 or 2 percent better and then I'm there.

CN: This is a race especially where there's nowhere to hide...

CH: Not at the finish, no.

CN: So how will your team play the race?

CH: The way we're approaching it is to wait until we get down to Stavelot, and from there, the racing's going to start. If a big break goes off, of course you've got to have someone in it, but you don't have to have anyone in a group of five. So the best thing to do is to keep routine until 100k to go, and with three, four climbs to go, that's when the real racing will start. We have a very strong team, we just don't have the favourite, and hopefully we can win by having the numbers versus having one superior rider.

CN: Have you done Liège before?

CH: Yeah, I did it once in '01 but we saw the finish of the course on Friday, so I know what's coming up.

13:24 CEST    129km/133km to go
The leaders are just about on the Côte de Saint Roch, which signals the start of the climbing on the way back. Their gap is still around 5'30, but should start to come down a bit now.

13:28 CEST    133km/129km to go
Pauwels, Wynants and Simon cross the St Roche in front, again putting the smaller teams in the limelight.

Ryan Cox (Barloworld)
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

13:36 CEST   
One of the breakaways, Ryan Cox (Barloworld) was an eye catcher with his South-African national jersey. "I travelled a lot in the early season, competing in Langkawi and South-Africa before doing the Commonwealth Games," he told Cyclingnews. "I was having a good race over there, but I worked for David George who got a second place in the end. I never raced Liège-Bastogne-Liège but we did the last 100km and it looks very hard."

Evgueni Petrov told us that he will work for Cunego and Ballan today. Behind those two, maybe Petrov can be the third Lampre rider in the finale.

13:43 CEST    141km/121km to go
At the halfway point, the gap between the 26 leaders and the bunch was clocked at 5'20, but 10 km later, it's come down to 4'30.

The riders in front are: Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues), Marcos Serrano (Liberty), Jens Voigt (CSC), Michael Rogers, Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile), Juan Antonio Flecha, Alexandre Kolobnev (Rabobank), Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), Addy Engels (Quick.Step), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Discovery), Christophe Brandt (Davitamon), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta, Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), Luis Perez Rodriguez (Cofidis), Remi Pauriol (Credit Agricole), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Arkaitz Duran Arroca (Saunier Duval), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Stephane Goubert (AG2R), Serge Pauwels, Martin Wynants (Jacques), Bert De Waele, Steven Kleynen, Jean-Paul Simon (Landbouwkrediet) and Ryan Cox (Barloworld).

They escaped shortly before 35 km, with Fedrigo and Pauwels initiating the move. Milram and Phonak have been responsible for controlling the chase.

13:51 CEST   
The T-Mobile team has a strong line-up with Michael Rogers one of their riders, and he is currently in this 26 man breakaway. "We have some options for this race, and I'm one of them," he told CN. "Mainly this is my preparation race for the upcoming Giro d'Italia. I didn't do a lot of races, so we'll have to see where I end up."

13:53 CEST    146km/116km to go
There is some pretty serious chasing going on in the peloton now, with the next climb - and the real beginning of the finale - coming in under 30 km. The break has come back to 3'40, down from a maximum of 7'10.

14:04 CEST    154km/108km to go
Still 20 km to the cote de Wanne, and the leaders have 3'00 of their advantage intact. As noted before, 20 teams are represented in front, and if this was a stage race, the break would probably stay away and win by half an hour. But it's not. Being a big classic, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is more tightly controlled, and it's the team captains who will likely take the final glory today. Unless they're in the break, in which case they will be gooooone.

14:12 CEST    160km/102km to go
CSC has been responsible for a lot of the recent chasing, which means that they are focusing on riders like Schleck, Kroon and Basso today, as Voigt is in the break.

14:16 CEST    168km/94km to go
The break is working pretty well together, enjoying the superb weather conditions today. Addy Engels (Quick.Step) is sitting last wheel.

The peloton is now 2'43 behind.

14:17 CEST    169km/93km to go
Ryan Cox comes through for another turn, his South African champion's jersey very visible. The Landbouwkrediet and Chocolade Jacques riders are also working well, as is Van Den Broeck (Disco) and even Voigt (CSC).

14:18 CEST   
German/Swiss T-Mobile rider Steffen Wesemann talked with Cyclingnews about the team's early season's performances. "We needed some time to get in form this year," he said. "But we were always confident that we have the quality to do well."

What kind of tactic will be used by T-Mobile today? "Tactics are always difficult to discuss; every team has them of course, but you need to change tactics during a race because the race situation is always changing. We want to have three to four men in the finale; Kessler, Sinkewitz, Rogers and I could be those men."

At the moment, Wesemann and Rogers are both in the break.

14:20 CEST    171km/91km to go
The breakaway passes Trois Points, and hits the cote de Wanne, a 3.1 km at 6.1 percent. This is going to hurt after such a long time out in front. Jurgen van den Broeck leads the way.

14:22 CEST    172km/90km to go
Back in the peloton, Lampre Fondital is driving the chase. They have Commesso in the break, but they want to set it up for Cunego. Two CSC riders are in last wheel - looks like Vande Velde and Luttenberger, who have just been working hard. They pull out of the race at Trois Points.

Perez takes over from Van den Broeck on the cote de Wanne, as the peloton hits it.

14:23 CEST    173km/89km to go
Perez and Wesemann attack the breakaways, with Voigt chasing them. The gap to the peloton is just under 2 minutes. They have a small gap over the rest of the break.

14:24 CEST   
Jean Paul Simon (Landbouwkrediet) is dropped from the break.

14:26 CEST   
The three attackers are gradually caught by the rest of the break on the Wanne, but it's falling apart as Wese does another attack. The bunch is 1'46 back.

14:28 CEST    176km/86km to go
Wesemann has a decent lead as he goes over the top of the Wanne alone, 1'41 ahead of he peloton, where CSC is driving it again. Eight riders are chasing Wesemann, including Voigt, Perez and Rogers.

14:29 CEST    177km/85km to go
Benoît Joachim (Discovery) is last wheel of a long line in the peloton, which is over the top of the climb now. 1'55 is the gap, so Wesemann is obviously strong today.

Jörg Jaksche (Liberty Seguros)
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

14:29 CEST   
We spoke to Liberty's Jörg Jaksche this morning too.

CN: This is a course that suits you, so will you try something for yourself today, or is it all for Vino?

JJ: I think together we have a strong team, so we have some possibilities to do well; it's always the race and the legs that decide the classement, so we have to see how everyone feels, how the race is developing and then decide.

CN: Obviously, this race is decided in the final 100 kilometres, so do you have a particular strategy from that point?

JJ: No, it's mainly just to stay in the front; if you feel good, you have to wait, wait, wait and then attack at the right moment - like in every race! (smiles)

CN: Do you see a similar situation like last year, where Vinokourov and Voigt got away with around 50 kilometres to go?

JJ: It's always difficult to predict the race because it's often based on a matter of seconds and the different tactics of the teams. Anything can happen, so it's impossible to predict the race.

14:32 CEST    179km/83km to go
Wese has 20 seconds on the rest of the break, while CSC is continuing to set tempo in the bunch. Michael Boogerd is very well placed. Wesemann is almost on the Côte de Stockeu.

14:34 CEST    180km/82km to go
Wese takes the right hander at Stavelot, and hits the Stockeu, 1.1 km at 10.5%. He loses some pedaling speed...

The chase group has lost a few riders, but is still quite large. VDB leads the charge.

14:36 CEST    181km/81km to go
Rogers and Kolobnev have split off the front of the break in pursuit of Wesemann, who is at the summit of the Stockeu. Perez has been dropped.

Sorensen and Kroon are leading the bunch behind. Cunego, Boogerd, Bettini are all there. Plenty of riders are being shelled on the Stockeu.

14:39 CEST    182km/80km to go
Arkaitz Duran is caught by the bunch, which is dropping more people. Elmiger is gone now.

Wesemann now has 45 seconds on his nearest chasers, which number six. Rogers, Voigt are both there. Now Wese is on the Côte de la Haute-Levée, 3.4 km at 6%.

14:43 CEST    184km/78km to go
There are 16 chasers behind Wesemann now, as Perez is absorbed by the CSC led peloton, where Schleck is prominent near the front. Basso punctures, and CSC will wait for him.

Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel) is caught by the bunch.

14:45 CEST   
Van den Broeck ups the tempo in the chase group, getting rid of Fedrigo. Or has the French champion flatted?

In the peloton, Verbrugghe has accelerated and caught Martin Wynants (Jacques), and Steven Kleynen (Landbouwkrediet). Basso has rejoined the bunch after his puncture.

14:47 CEST    185km/77km to go
Garcia Acosta is caught and passed by the three chasers with Verbrugghe.

Wesemann has 55 seconds on the first chase group, and 2'00 on Verbrugghe's group, which is catching the rest of the break.

14:50 CEST    186km/76km to go
Verbrugghe drives his chase group, with Wynants and Kleynen hanging on. They should catch the first chasers, but Wese is already 1'22 ahead of them. The tempo in the peloton is easier, as Leukemans signals for his team car.

Leukemans was noticed in the Fleche Wallonne with an attack right before the ultimate climb. "It was the best thing I could do because I was without a chance on the climb," he told Cyclingnews. "Afterwards, I was annoyed with some Flemish newspapers saying that it was a stupid move to do. They're always criticising our performances; they do that when we attack and they do it when we're waiting. I hope to do well today, but I'll need a super day if I want to get a good result."

14:51 CEST    187km/75km to go
Jens Voigt has attacked the chase group, which is not really working. The German is 1'30 behind his compatriot Steffen Wesemann, who is having another great ride today.

14:54 CEST    188km/74km to go
Voigt is caught and the pace is relaxed again in the chase group as De Waele tries to get a break going. They're still 1'25 behind Wesemann, with Verbrugghe's group closing in fast.

14:56 CEST    190km/72km to go
The peloton is 2'20 back now, but the pace has increased again. It's a minute behind the first chase group as it strings out en route to the Rosier.

Cox does another turn in the chase group with Rogers marking him.

14:57 CEST   
Garcia Acosta is now driving the peloton. He was in the break before, so this will be his last effort before the Rosier.

15:00 CEST    194km/68km to go
The bunch sweeps along down the descent towards the Rosier, while Wesemann takes it alone. The T-Mobile rider is looking strong at the moment.

Remi Pauriol (CA) leads the chase group, with Rogers marking him. And Garcia Acosta is still leading the peloton.

Wesemann is on the cote du Rosier now, 4 km at 5.9%. The peloton is just 1'50 back, and only half a minute behind the chasing group.

15:01 CEST   
It's been eighteen years since Adri Van Der Poel won Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He is the last Dutch winner and he was also runner-up in 1986, he should know the race very well. We asked him who he expected to see today: "Cunego, Valverde and Freire could do well today. These guys don't like it when the weather is bad. That way, we didn't see them in the Amstel Gold Race, but on Wednesday they were alright," the Dutchman explained.

How did he win the race and what does he expect today. "The race is suited for riders who want to attack. I attacked on the Monteux with 50km to go. First, I caught some previous attackers but nobody came back to us. Our break of three riders went to the finish line where I won the sprint."

15:02 CEST    195.5km/66.5km to go
Verburgghe has caught the chase group, and straight away gets to the front. Rogers, Voigt and Engels are on his wheel.

Hiekmann is dropped from the chase group.

15:04 CEST    196km/66km to go
Verbrugghe continues to pound away on the front of the chase group, but the CSC led peloton is almost on them. This is where the action really started last year.

Yep, all caught. Except for Steffen Wesemann.

15:06 CEST   
Sastre is now on the front of the bunch, keeping the gap to Wesemann down to 1'21. They're still on the Rosier, and the bunch is a good 100 riders strong.

15:08 CEST    198km/64km to go
The early breakaways are getting spat out the back of the bunch, with Hiekmann next to go. A Liberty rider is setting tempo now, with most of the favourites on his wheel. Schleck, Kroon, Boogerd, Horner, Vinokourov, Kroon, Sinkewitz, Bettini, Di Luca...

15:09 CEST   
Wese crosses the summit of the Rosier with a minute over the peloton, which is stretching out. Sastre and Voigt are on the front. Impressive work by CSC.

15:13 CEST    202km/60km to go
Portal - one of the early breakaways - has crashed. He's not out of the race, but he looks pretty ordinary as he gets going again.

It's 51 seconds to Wesemann. 48.

15:16 CEST   
Davitamon-Lotto team director Dirk De Wolf doesn't expect to see a Belgian winner on the podium today. De Wolf, winner of the 1992 edition of "la Doyenne" told the Belgian press the home crowd will have to be patient for two to three years more and then they'll see a Belgian take the flowers in L-B-L. According to De Wolf, the youngsters aren't ready yet.

HNB points out that Frank Vandenbroucke (who returned to Italy, claiming to be suffering from fever) will remain the last Belgian to have won L-B-L for some time (1999). They came to the conclusion that there is no Belgian rider able to compete with the best in the finale of Amstel Gold, they can't hang on once the cobbled classics are over, and done with and as soon as the road goes uphill for over a kilometre, and the same thing is true for the Ardennes Classics. Bjorn Leukemans weighs in too light, Philippe Gilbert and Jurgen Van Den Broeck are too young still and Mario Aerts, Rik Verbrugghe and Axel Merckx are past their peak years.

"It will take another two, three years but then we'll have guys who will be able to win in the Ardennes, like we have been used to," said De Wolf.

Walter Godefroot on the other hand thinks that the gap between specialists on the cobbles and the climbers will become bigger even. "It will become more and more specialised racing. A rider who focuses on races which suit him the best and only works towards those is hard to beat. And that's what Boonen and co do now," he is quoted in HLN.

De Wolf doesn't agree. 'Look at Karsten Kroon. He was second in Brabantse Pijl, fifth in RVV, third in Amstel gold and second in Flèche Wallonne. Isn't that a proof that it is possible?"

De Wolf isn't soft on the more established Belgian riders." Aerts? Verbrugghe? Merckx? I laugh to hear them all the time, that they had to work for their team leader and that's the reason they weren't there any more in the finale. Bull, that's what I think of that. If you are good, you're there. Then you survive the natural selection. If we have two Belgian in the top twenty on Sunday, it will be a big success."

According to De Wolf another reason why there's no more Belgians showing themselves in the hills of the Belgian Ardennes is that the competition has got better. "The quality of the team leaders is higher than in the RVV or P-R. Basso, Vinokourov, Valverde, Boogerd: those aren't small riders hey. If we have two riders riding the finale we're happy. If they are dropped and finish outside of the prizes, we'll think of that as normal. Boonen is world top on his terrain, but we miss someone like him for the Ardennes."

15:17 CEST    204km/58km to go
The bunch hits the feedzone at La Gleize, and Portal abandons. Wesemann still has 54 seconds lead after attacking on the cote de Wanne.

15:24 CEST    209km/53km to go
Voigt drives the peloton and Sastre is dropped, his work done. So is Verbrugghe.

Wesemann still has 24 seconds, but won't last long. There's a Liberty rider in second wheel, and Kashechkin is also well up there. 20 seconds.

15:26 CEST    210km/52km to go
Wesemann's run is about to come to an end on the Côte de la Vecquée. He's been away for the last 25 km alone, and since km 33 in the breakaway.

15:27 CEST    210km/52km to go
Voigt's work has been good, and he's got his target in his sights. Wesemann looks back and has just 12 seconds. He gets plenty of cheers from the crowds lining the road under the dense trees. He's over the top of the Vecquée.

15:29 CEST    212km/50km to go
Voigt flies past Wesemann with Kashechkin(?) on his wheel. Garate, Horner, Bettini, Schleck, Kroon, Basso, Merckx, Sinkewitz, Boogerd, Vinokourov, Cunego, Valverde, Evans, Horner are all there. Maybe 50 riders.

15:30 CEST    213km/49km to go
No, it's Jörg Jaksche on Voigt's wheel as the German keeps the tempo high for his captains. Another bunch follows at 30 seconds.

15:31 CEST   
The next climb is the cote de la Redoute, but it's 15 km hence. It's important for Voigt to spend himself with the aim of reaching that climb. That will take enough pressure off his teammates.

15:32 CEST   
Team director Scott Sunderland explains why earlier we saw CSC working both in the break and in the peloton: "The team is trying to make the race as hard as possible; we see Jens Voigt really riding hard at the front of the break, and the rest of the CSC team is pulling up the speed in the peloton at the front of the chasing group. One of our boys is obviously feeling really good today."

15:34 CEST    217km/45km to go
Axel Merckx now does a turn, but it's a bit early in the piece. Let Voigt do it.

There are four T-Mobiles near the front, to match the CSC strength. But Voigt is the main one working. Jaksche keeps his wheel, then Wesemann. Gilbert (FDJ) has also moved up.

15:35 CEST    44.5km/217.5km to go
Gilbert attacks! But Voigt takes his wheel. Then Gilbert puts in another acceleration and gets a gap. He knows these roads so well.

15:39 CEST    222km/40km to go
Voigt continues to power on the front of the peloton, which will wait until La Redoute to do something. Sinkewitz and Kessler sit close to the front, while Di Luca and Baguet are a little further back.

It looks like Gilbert has been caught. Yes, he has. You've got to be confident to take on Jens Voigt in a one-on-one.

A chasing group led by Rabobank is at 1'02 behind the front group.

15:42 CEST    223.5km/38.5km to go
Now Petrov gets to the front on a fast descent. The Lampre rider has a nice tuck, and is leading the bunch at 80 km/h. But it's not long before Voigt assumes his favourite position at the head of the group.

15:43 CEST    225km/37km to go
They cross the bridge at Sougné-Remouchamps and get ready for La Redoute. Thomas Dekker is in the lead group, but is a long way back. Not good.

15:44 CEST    225.5km/36.5km to go
The climb starts : 2.1 km at 8.4%. And it's Steffen Wesemann who attacks again in the big ring. That's gotta hurt. It does and he goes backwards like a stone. Now Stangelj takes over.

15:45 CEST   
Stangelj sets a hard tempo and Erik Dekker is dropped. Di Luca, Perdiguero, Valverde are all up front.

Voigt is dropped, of course.

15:46 CEST    227km/35km to go
All the favourites are there as Stangelj keeps the pressure on. But now Ivan Basso ups the pace, with Rodriguez and Bettini on his wheel. Kessler and Di Luca are next and Boogerd. Simoni is also up there.

15:47 CEST   
Cunego attacks! Bettini counters and gets him. Then Kessler and Rodriguez, then Boogerd, Schleck and PErdiguero. Vino is in about 12th.

Basso drops back bit.

15:49 CEST    227.5km/34.5km to go
Bettini takes over and Kessler is the T-Mobile rider next to him. About 15 riders left.

Kroon looks to be in trouble.

Perdiguero keeps the tempo up, then Horner attacks! Impressive. Vinokourov chases with Bettini and Kessler in tow, and maybe 10 more.

15:50 CEST    228km/34km to go
Horner comes back and Sinkewitz counters with Perdiguero on him. Horner grabs third wheel, then Boogerd...watchful. Vino still looks very good. There are maybe 20 riders left after La Redoute. Then another group of 20.

15:52 CEST    230km/32km to go
Basso is leading the group again, with Vinokourov, Bettini in second and third. Horner and Perdi have dropped to the back of the group, which is maybe 25 riders strong. Astarloa and Sanchez are both there.

But now Horner moves up as Pellizotti attacks. The pair have a small lead. They will be caught.

15:54 CEST    231km/31km to go
The descent finishes and the group starts to work a bit. Bettini looks back to check how things are going. He looks very nervous.

Alessandro Ballan is in last wheel as they speed through Sprimont.

15:54 CEST    232km/30km to go
A second group is chasing this lead bunch at 25 seconds, led by Serge Baguet.

Now the Côte de Sprimont starts...

15:55 CEST   
Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) attacks on the Sprimont, a 1.4 km climb.

15:57 CEST    233km/29km to go
Boogerd ups the tempo behind, checking to see who is strong. Rodriguez continues to ride ahead, but starts to bog down now. He's in a big gear.

15:58 CEST   
Rodriguez comes back and the counters start. Rodriguez chases down an attack from Boogerd. Interesting move.

15:59 CEST    234km/28km to go
Boogerd looks back and sees that it's Rodriguez on his wheel. The rest of the bunch sits up, and Jörg Jaksche gets to the front and starts to ride, with Vinokourov on his wheel.

16:01 CEST    236km/26km to go
an overview of the lead group: Vinokourov, Jaksche, Sinkewitz, Kessler, Bettini, Di Luca, Valverde, Schleck, Basso, Kroon, Cunego, Ballan, Simoni, Horner, Sanchez, Astarloa, Rodriguez, Valverde.

Boogerd and Rodriguez have a bit of a gap, and both are working with each other. 16 seconds.

16:04 CEST    23km/239km to go
There is a second chase group with Baguet, Leukemans and Merckx getting very close to the front group. As Boogerd and Rodriguez gain more ground, Bettini gets to the front and chases. 27 seconds.

Kroon punctures - very bad time!

Oscar Freire is also in the front group.

16:05 CEST    241km/21km to go
The two chase groups come together, and it's the familiar national champions jerseys of Serge Baguet and Juan Manuel Garate working for Quick.Step's Paolo Bettini. They have help from Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguros).

Michael Boogerd is not a rider you want to let go in Liege Bastogne Liege. But Joaquin Rodriguez is a better sprinter than him...

16:07 CEST    242km/20km to go
Contador sits last wheel in the chase group, which is approaching the Côte du Sart-Tilman - Tilff. The two leaders have 26 seconds. Dangerous, but not deadly. Bram Tankink is also helping his Quick.Step teammates chase.

16:08 CEST    243.5km/18.5km to go
The gap keeps getting bigger, and it's now half a minute as the chase group organises itself behind. Thomas Dekker has moved up. It's Lampre, Liberty and Quick.Step chasing.

16:09 CEST   
Boogerd knows he's got a chance, with 35 seconds with 18 km to go. 40 seconds! It's getting interesting.

16:10 CEST   
Now there is a bit more anxiety in the chase. Boogerd and Rodriguez cross another bridge and are about to hit the Côte du Sart-Tilman.

16:10 CEST    245km/17km to go
They're on it, with 43 seconds to the chasers. Boogerd takes the lead. It's a 3.6 km climb.

16:12 CEST    246km/16km to go
Now Vicioso does a huge turn in front, then Etxebarria. Stangelj is next, then Cunego. Bettini moves up as Basso and Jaksche lead the chase, stretching the group. Kashechkin is also there. It comes back from 47 to 43 seconds.

Tankink and Mazzoleni are dropped. And Baguet, Rous, Mancebo...

16:13 CEST    246.5km/15.5km to go
Gilbert is also in difficulty at the back of the group. Jaksche buries himself in front and Ivan Basso has his wheel. Boogerd and Rodriguez are cooperating wheel, and hold their advantage at 39 seconds.

16:15 CEST    246.5km/15.5km to go
Chavanel struggles to keep in contact with the group. Iban Mayo is also there - just - while Valverde looks pretty comfy, but is a long way back. 40 seconds. Jaksche can't really make the difference here.

16:15 CEST    247km/15km to go
Boogerd does another strong turn, working pretty hard. This is a good tactic, and he's got Rodriguez in difficulty. But the Spaniard can hold on.

16:16 CEST    248km/14km to go
Jaksche can only control the gap, but not reduce it. Bettini is on his wheel, then Valverde has moved up to third. Dekker and Di Luca are there, as are Basso and Schleck. Cunego is further down.

16:18 CEST    248.5km/13.5km to go
Boogerd hammers and Rodriguez does have problems holding on. But he does.

Bettini attacks, but gets Valverde for company. That's a good attack. He is now alone. The summit is reached.

16:19 CEST    249km/13km to go
Bettini pegs the leaders back to 24 seconds very quickly. Behind, the chasers are disorganised. Horner is up there, and Basso, looking for his team. And Vinokourov. The Kazakhstani goes away with Horner, and several riders chase.

16:20 CEST    250km/12km to go
No-one wants to work in pursuit of the three up front. That's fairly risky.

Ah - Stangelj has made it back and is on the front with a Lampre teammate. Bettini is 19 seconds behind the two leaders, with the group another 10 seconds back.

16:21 CEST    234km/28km to go
Bettini is caught again on the fast descent into Liege. The two leaders will have a hard time staying clear on this road, because it's very easy to chase.

16:22 CEST    252km/10km to go
Boogerd and Rodriguez swap off at 70-80km/h as T. Dekker waves at the moto to keep away from the chase group, which is still 40 riders strong.

16:23 CEST    254km/8km to go
The descent is finished, and the two leaders are nearing the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, taking the side road as usual. They are flying! 28 seconds. This could be it...

16:24 CEST    255km/7km to go
Stangelj leads the chase, 26 seconds behind the two leaders. They're almost on the St Nicolas.

16:26 CEST   
21 seconds now. Anything can happen and probably will.

Boogerd hammers on the St Nicolas, and Rodriguez has his head down trying to hang on. Kashechkin attacks the chase group. 18 seconds.

16:28 CEST    256km/6km to go
Kash gets to within 12 seconds, and Di Luca, Perdiguero and Horner can follow. Di Luca takes over and pegs it back to 10 seconds. Bettini is up there, but only just.

Boogerd is still in front, then Rodriguez on his wheel. Perdiguero attacks behind! They're caught.

Vinokourov is dropped.

16:29 CEST    257km/5km to go
Sinkewitz chases the leading three, and gets them over the top. Nice riding by the German. Four leaders. Then Valverde closes the gap...

16:30 CEST   
Leaders: Perdiguero (Phonak), Boogerd (Rabobank), Sinkewitz (T-Mobile), Rodriguez, Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Horner (Davitamon) and Schleck (CSC). Seven men. And Cunego gets on with Basso and Bettini, Di Luca and Kashechkin.

16:31 CEST    258.5km/3.5km to go
The leaders are at 3.5 km to go: Perdiguero (Phonak), Boogerd (Rabobank), Sinkewitz (T-Mobile), Rodriguez, Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Horner (Davitamon), Cunego (Lampre), Basso, Schleck (CSC), Bettini (QS), Di Luca (Liquigas) and Kashechkin (Liberty). One more climb to come - the finish to Ans.

16:33 CEST    260km/2km to go
Schleck attacks on the cobbles, stretching the group. Sinkewitz is up there, but they can't get a gap. They are near the final ascent, which is long and straight. Rodriguez leads for his teammate Valverde, who is a big favourite now. And Cunego.

16:33 CEST    260.5km/1.5km to go
Perdiguero and Rodriguez attack before the Cote d'Ans, and the rest come back.

16:34 CEST    261km/1km to go
Rodriguez leads Boogerd and the others as the climb starts. Valverde sits in third wheel. Bettini and Cunego can certainly sprint too.

Sinkewitz attacks under the km to go! Basso takes his wheel.

16:35 CEST   
Basso takes over with a massive gear, but the rest are back. Sinkewitz in second wheel, then Boogerd.

16:35 CEST   
Schleck counters and Boogerd reacts. Sinkewitz also there, then Cunego. Valverde in fifth.

16:36 CEST   
Boogerd starts to lead out as Basso attacks again. Nope, all together.

16:36 CEST   
Sinkewitz leads as they near the left hander, now Valverde is in second wheel. Surely a favourite.

16:37 CEST    262km/0km to go
Valverde wins it!!!! Bettini can't get past him, and Cunego takes third.

Who was saying Valverde didn't have the distance in his legs?

16:38 CEST   
Alejandro Valverde has done the double: winning Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The first Spaniard to do so. And the first Spaniard to win L-B-L. Great performance.

16:48 CEST   
Well, that was a different finish to what we've had in previous years. It's clear that everyone in that lead group was completely knackered, and no-one had the legs to break away. They certainly tried though! Hats off to Alejandro Valverde, who is a very worthy winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and a great ride by his team to put Joaquin Rodriguez in the break with Boogerd.

Valverde will also take over the ProTour lead from Tom Boonen.

That's all from us in Europe until the Giro d'Italia in a couple of weeks. But you can still follow CN's live coverage via the hot air balloon in Georgia on live9.cyclingnews.com.

Over and out.


1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    6.21.32
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quickstep-Innergetic                                   
3 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                                       
4 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                       
5 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank                                             
6 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems                
7 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                               
8 Chris Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto                                         
9 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas                                              
10 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC